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Iran Report: June 25, 2001

25 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 24

IRAN, BUT NO IRANIANS, NAMED IN KHOBAR INDICTMENT. "[T]he charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft stated in a discussion about the 21 June indictment of 14 people for the June 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen and wounded 372 other Americans.

Iran is referred to almost 40 times in the indictment, but no Iranians are actually indicted. Instead, the indictment names 13 Saudis and one Lebanese. Nonetheless, the indictment says that the 13 Saudis were members of Saudi Hizballah (a.k.a. Hizballah al-Hijaz), Hizballah was a name used by "a number of related terrorist organizations operating in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Bahrain, among other places," and "[t]hese Hizballah organizations were inspired, supported, and directed by elements of the Iranian government." Members of Saudi Hizballah met in Iran, Syria, or Lebanon, and those who wished to join Saudi Hizballah underwent military training and indoctrination in Hizballah-controlled areas of Lebanon. The individuals named in the indictment were in direct contact with the Iranian Embassy in Damascus or traveled with vehicles provided by that embassy; had close associations with "certain military elements of the Iranian government; and/or traveled to Iran for military and religious training.

Once the named individuals began surveillance of possible American targets in 1993, according to the indictment, their written reports were passed on to Iranian officials. In about autumn 1994, more targets in Saudi Arabia were put under surveillance at the direction of "an Iranian military officer." Ahmed Al-Mughassil, who headed the military wing of Saudi Hizballah, "explained that he had close ties to Iranian officials, who supplied him with money and gave him directions for the party." Mughassil also said that "the attack was to serve Iran by driving the Americans out of the [Persian] Gulf region."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that the "charges against Iran�have no legal and judicial basis," IRNA reported on 22 June. He went on to say that the charges are part of "the ceaseless efforts of the United States to pressure the Islamic Republic," and they are indicative of submission to "the Zionist lobby and its influence." (Bill Samii)

SANCTIONS RENEWAL ADVANCES. The International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act for another five years by a 41-3 vote on 20 June. ILSA, which is due to expire in August, punishes companies that invest more than $20 million in Tehran's energy sector. The legislation now must be voted on by the full House. The White House had proposed extending the sanctions by only two years, and three members of the committee had backed this proposal. Representative Benjamin Gilman, who sponsored the five-year extension of sanctions, countered, "We should not give the impression that they can wait us out." Representative Tom Lantos said that Iran and Libya could end the sanctions if they altered their behavior.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, "The extension of sanctions has been against the hypocritical will of the U.S. government and is expressive of the influence of Zionist lobbies in that country," IRNA reported on 23 June. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL APPROVES ELECTION RESULT. The Guardians Council approved the validity of President Mohammad Khatami's victory in the 8 June presidential election, state television reported on 20 June. The widespread irregularities that were reported in many constituencies did not affect the overall result of the election, the Council stated, but the relevant authorities will investigate violations. The Council also approved results of the parliamentary by-elections held on 8 June. Another round of by-elections is scheduled for 30 November to fill one seat in Khalkhal and seven seats in Gulistan Province. The Gulistan seats are empty because the parliamentarians were killed in a mid-May airplane crash. (Bill Samii)

SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR COUNTER-NARCOTICS DAY. "Sports against Drugs" is the theme for this year's International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking (26 June), and in Tehran many relevant activities have been organized. Moreover, the Iranian government usually marks this event by making a bonfire of confiscated narcotics in front of foreign diplomats and journalists. This year's events will be held in Tehran's Khak-i Sefid district, where 1,000 drug dealers were apprehended in a late February security operation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 March 2001).

Khak-i Sefid also is where five of the arrested traffickers were hanged on 19 March. Fariba Tajiani Imamqoli was one of those sentenced to death, according to "The Independent" on 6 June: "she is led out in front of a baying crowd, blindfolded and manacled, begging desperately for her life.... Fariba is strung up from one of five cranes and spends 10 minutes choking to death before a crowd of 500 people -- along with others who had gathered to watch from their rooftops -- who shriek 'death to dealers' as her body sways above the streets."

Twelve more people who received death sentences after being arrested in Khak-i Sefid are awaiting approval of the verdict by the Supreme Court, Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui of the Law Enforcement Forces told state radio on 16 June. Such harsh sentences do not appear to have solved Tehran's drug problem: Aboui admitted that drug trafficking had returned to Khak-i Sefid in an interview with the 15 May "Aftab-i Yazd."

A 14-year-old Pakistani boy has been sentenced to death on drug charges in Iran (UPI, 14 June), a drug trafficker identified only as Hussein was hanged in Khorasan Province for killing a member of the Torbat-i Heidarieh Basij Resistance Force ("Kayhan," 17 June), and drug trafficker Hassab Abbas Husseinzadeh was hanged in public in Luristan Province ("Kayhan," 20 June). Iran has executed over 10,000 narcotics traffickers in the last two decades, usually by hanging, and some 800 people are on death row for narcotics offenses.

In an unusual development, an Afghan man was beheaded on 17 June in front of hundreds of people at a crossroads in Zabol, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami." This unusual penalty probably was meant to send a message to those responsible for the general lawlessness in Iran's eastern provinces, Tehran lawyer Nemat Ahmadi told RFE/RL's Persian Service.

Other countries appear to be favorably impressed with the Iranian approach to counter-narcotics. Ottawa's ambassador to Iran, Terrence W. Colfer, announced on 19 June that a group of Iranian counter-narcotics officers would be going to Canada for training, according to IRNA. Danish Ambassador to Iran Hugo Oestergaard-Anderson called on the Iranian parliament to support cooperation between Tehran and Copenhagen in the anti-drugs campaign, IRNA reported on 30 May, and he recommended more exchanges between Iranian and Danish officials to foster mutual understanding. During a visit to Iran, Caracas Mayor Freddy Bernal Rosales referred to drug abuse among his city's youth as a growing problem, IRNA reported on 21 May, and he discussed ways of expanding Tehran-Caracas cooperation in fighting drug addiction.

In an expansion of their cooperation in combating drug-trafficking, Iran and Kuwait will sign mutual extradition pacts, IRNA reported on 19 May. Iran also has discussed counter-narcotics or signed relative agreements with Armenia, Australia, Cyprus, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

Tehran journalist Ali Kadkhodazadeh told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the Iranian government continues to emphasize supply interdiction rather than examining the demand side of the drug control problem. As he sees it, the large and increasing number of young people is a huge potential market of drug abusers. And because Iran is both a market and a transit point for narcotics, Kadkhodazadeh believes that Tehran must enter discussions with the Taliban.

Drugs have cost Iran heavily. There are some 1.2 million addicts and another 800,000 casual abusers, and Tehran claims that 3,100 security officials have given their lives in combating drug traffickers in the last twenty years. Iran accounts for about 85 percent of all the non-cocaine-based drugs confiscated in the world, although it only captures some 17 percent of the narcotics that enter the country.

Most of the opium, morphine, and heroin that enters Iran used to come directly across the Afghanistan or Pakistan borders, but as security measures have become more stringent the smugglers have changed their tactics. They now put the drugs on boats along the Pakistani coast, and these vessels unload their cargoes along Iran's Persian Gulf coast. Sixty percent of the narcotics coming into Iran move on to Turkey, but the rest of the drugs stay in Iran. So far, the Taliban's ban on opium cultivation has led to rising opium prices but falling heroin prices, which can be explained by a decrease in the heroin's purity -- sometimes as low as 1 percent -- as dealers try to make their supplies last. (Bill Samii)

ALCOHOL ABLATED. "In our country, there aren't many opportunities for recreation, and alcohol is banned," a recovering opium addict told "The Globe and Mail." Moreover, Tehran psychiatrist Emran Razzaghi told "The Guardian" that "If alcohol were available, more people would use that, but it will never be legalized in this country." Nonetheless, the consumption or production of alcohol legally is forbidden to all Iranians except non-Muslims. Isfahan police seized almost 1,000 liters of alcohol on 15 June. An alcohol-smuggling ring on Kish Island was taken down on 2 June, according to IRNA. Police in Kurdistan Province discovered 42,000 bottles of alcoholic beverages on 5-6 May, and they have seized some 114,000 bottles of liquor since March. Spreading "debased practices, such as drinking alcohol, and other sins and depravities," was among the main aims of the founders of Tehran's Khak-i Sefid district, "Afarinesh" reported on 27 February. (Bill Samii)

SWEET AND LOWDOWN. Corruption is one of the issues that President Mohammad Khatami will have to address in his second term, not only because of public unhappiness with this phenomena and its negative impact on the economy, but also because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded its elimination in a 30 April speech (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 June 2001). Corruption -- kickbacks, influence peddling, nepotism -- is not a new issue and has existed in the Islamic Republic for many years, but outgoing Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari's January 2001 speech about a "trade mafia" and shady dealings in the sugar sector brought the issue to the fore.

During his speech, Kalantari complained that permits for the import of sugar were sold to private individuals and firms with connections in the government. Subsequently, sugar was imported from overseas during the Iranian harvesting season, and because the local market was flooded, Iranian sugar just sat in the warehouses. Furthermore, the Higher Economic Council actually sets a fixed quota for sugar imports, a "senior economic affairs official" commented in the 21 February "Hambastegi," yet this quota was exceeded by 400,000 tons. Much of the sugar comes from Cuba.

Iran now imports 45-47 percent (850-900,000 out of 1.9 million tons) of the sugar it consumes annually, a Commerce Ministry official told the 24 January "Dowran-i Imruz." An Iranian "economic expert" added in the same article that the country actually imports 60 percent of its sugar requirement, whereas before the revolution Iran imported only 26 percent of its sugar and was on the way to becoming a sugar exporter.

An official at the Karun Industrial Sugarcane Cultivation Company in Shushtar complained to Ahvaz's "Nur-i Khuzestan" on 7 February that this situation has led to liquidity problems, which lead to an inability to pay wages or buy equipment.

Kalantari is not the only person to complain about a mafia's involvement in the issue. An economic expert explained that "invisible hands" are trying to block the creation of an independent sugar production capability. Azadshahr parliamentarian Ali Kuhsari said that "in order to reach a healthy economy, we have to set out to destroy those power and trade mafia networks," "Abrar" reported on 13 February.

What some people call the "trade mafia" others call the "hidden government," in other words, the anonymous people who really run the country's affairs. The members of this "hidden government" are anti-democratic, but not out of ideology. It is because democracy and openness threaten their financial interests, according to the 15 February "Entekhab." These individuals profit the most in areas that involve the government budget, government contracts, government supervision, public loans, government permits, and government facilities.

Kalantari is qualified to know about fraud and corruption in the agricultural sector: he served as agriculture minister for one year during Mir Hussein Musavi's premiership, eight years during Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency, and over three years under Khatami. But as several newspapers asked, why did he wait until his last day in the job to expose corrupt practices (although he did not provide much in the way of specifics), rather than doing something about them? Is it possible that the new anticorruption crusade will uncover information about Kalantari himself? (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER CRACKDOWN ON CORRUPTION. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 18 June authorization of a parliamentary probe into the financial and operational activities of the state broadcasting organization is an indication that he is serious about the anticorruption campaign he announced on 30 April. Although this is just the most recent such campaign (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 1999 and 10 January 2000), the earlier ones were politicized (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 January 2000) whereas many government organizations appear to have put their weight behind this one.

In his 30 April decree to the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, Khamenei said that Iran needs a healthy economy in order to "create employment for the youth and to give security to investors." He then identified eight points for eliminating corruption, and the first was a warning that the campaign would meet with opposition. Khamenei warned that "any negligence in the fight against corruption is somehow tantamount to collaboration with the dishonest and corrupt individuals." Those who fight corruption should be "incorruptible," and those who "intend to work in the path of reforms must be reformed characters themselves."

Khamenei said that the sword of justice should be wielded delicately, so that mistakes are not treated in the same way as treachery, minor offenders are not treated the same way as "notorious criminals," and the "honest and pious managers" do not come under suspicion. Nonetheless, nobody and no department is exempt from investigation, and the roots of corruption should be sought.

Khamenei pointed out that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security must provide the necessary macro-economic information regarding foreign transactions and about foreign economic and financial decision-making centers. Khamenei also mentioned the State Audit Office (also known as the National Accounting Agency), which is supervised by the parliament and tasked with inspecting the accounts of ministries, government institutions, and companies as well as other organizations that draw, in any way, on the general budget of the country (per Articles 54 and 55 of the constitution). Khamenei also mentioned the National Control and Inspection Organization, which is part of the Judiciary and is charged with combating corruption and supervision of proper implementation of laws.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi wrote to Khamenei and said a committee had been established to deal with economic corruption, IRNA reported on 1 May. Shahrudi had announced on 9 April the creation of an anticorruption task force charged with identifying "the big shots involved in economic corruption and misusing the public fund" and consisting of National Control and Inspection Organization chief Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi and Administrative Tribunal chief Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi also endorsed the Supreme Leader's call, IRNA reported on 2 May, as did 190 parliamentarians. Friday Prayer leaders across the country sermonized in favor of the anticorruption campaign on 4 May.

MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi really got into the spirit of things. He warned all embezzlers and those who misappropriate public wealth that they should not feel secure in Iran, IRNA reported on 5 May. He reported that other countries' economic espionage in Iran had been uncovered, according to state television on 22 May, and the spies had been neutralized and confronted. Yunesi went on to say that everybody in the public and private sectors could make use of MOIS information free of charge.

A committee to discuss the creation of an anticorruption headquarters was formed also, "Tehran Times" reported on 28 May. Its members from the executive branch are Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, Vice President for Planning and Management Mohammad-Reza Aref-Yazdi, and Yunesi. Representing the Judiciary are Hojatoleslams Alizadeh, Izadpanah, and Raisi. Reza Noruz-Zadeh and Hussein Marashi are representing the parliament. And on 3 June Khamenei met with President Mohammad Khatami, Shahrudi, Karrubi, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to discuss the anticorruption campaign. (Bill Samii)

PISTACHIO GROWERS AND CAR IMPORTERS. Corruption in Iran often is linked with powerful extended families. One of those about which there have been numerous complaints is the large Hashemi family from Kerman Province. They are wealthy from pistachio-farming and land-owning activities before the revolution, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani went from being a close ally of the Father of the Revolution to being a two-term president and now chairman of the Expediency Council, and other Hashemis are active in every branch of the government. Recent allegations of corruption link the Hashemi family with a pistachio cooperative and with dubious vehicle imports.

The Rafsanjan Pistachio Growers Cooperative announced in late 2000 that it needed money to buy pistachios from the growers, and it requested governmental permission to import 10,000 motor vehicles for resale to generate the needed revenues. The application received governmental approval but met with strong protests from the Iranian Automakers Association, from Cooperatives Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem, and from those who argued that the profits would really benefit the Hashemi family that dominates the pistachio business. Eventually, permission for the vehicle imports was rescinded.

The Rafsanjan Pistachio Growers Cooperative came back the next month with a request for permission to establish a private bank and to establish a factory to assemble and produce its own vehicles, and Rafsanjan parliamentarian Ali Hashemi and the cooperative manager explained that they already had held negotiations with Toyota and Mitsubishi. They went on to say that to generate the revenue for opening the factory, they needed to import 5,000 vehicles and requested a loan from Iran's foreign currency reserves. Moreover, they requested the loan at unusually low interest, according to the 25 December "Dowran-i Imruz."

This proposal met with objections from the Ministry of Industries, "Dowran-i Imruz" reported, either because it wants to maintain a monopoly in the country's auto manufacturing sector or because of undue influence wielded by the managers of Iran Khodro and Saipa, two Iranian automobile companies.

An official from the Iranian auto manufacturers association told the 6 January "Dowran-i Imruz" that his organization did not object to the imports in principle. Indeed, permission to import cars had been granted in the past by the Industries Ministry. But instead of the 500-1,000 sample vehicles that had been approved, some 5,000-10,000 were imported. Moreover, the official said, only the Kerman Car Manufacturing Company, which is linked with the Rafsanjan Pistachio Growers Cooperative, made any parts for the cars.

Rafsanjan parliamentarian Ali Hashemi complained to the 1 January "Dowran-i Imruz" that criticism of the Rafsanjan Pistachio Growers Cooperative was unfair because other individuals had made similar requests to import vehicles and get loans. He pointed out that the Judiciary had investigated the assets of his family members, such as President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and had found that they had not increased during their time in government.

Nor was he responsible for the 60,000-member Rafsanjan Pistachio Growers Cooperative: "we cannot tell someone that as he is our cousin he should not become the managing director of the pistachio company," he told "Siyasat" in August 2000. As for links with a car-manufacturing company in Kerman, Hashemi said that it belonged to the Mulla al-Muvahedin foundation which is linked with the Kerman governor-general, and as "Seyyed Hussein Marashi, who is my mother's cousin, has been the governor-general of Kerman at one time or is a [parliamentary] deputy from Kerman at the moment, that is how the rumor starts that the company belongs to the Hashemi family." The Talai Company, the Haft Baq Company, the Haft Asiman Company? They all belong to the Mulla al-Movahedian foundation, Hashemi retorted. (Bill Samii)

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN HIZBALLAH-TEHRAN DYNAMIC. Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri arrived in Tehran on 18 June to congratulate President Mohammad Khatami on his re-election, at which time Khatami called for the elimination of administrative red tape that was hindering the expansion of relations between the two states. Khatami symbolizes the state-to-state aspect of Iran-Lebanon relations, and this meeting appears to be a demonstration thereof.

It is equally likely that political-military issues were an important part of this visit. Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met first with First Vice President Hassan Habibi, who, according to IRNA, stressed the independence of Hizballah and reiterated the wholly political nature of Iran's support for the organization. Yet it is increasingly difficult to draw a clear distinction between Hizballah and the activities of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Two days after Hariri's visit, the Hamas representative in Tehran, Abu Mohammad Mustafa, said that the Palestinian Intifada would not remain limited to stones and there would be phases involving the use of arms. Mustafa added, according to Iranian state radio, that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat's promises were not binding on the Palestinian people.

At the end of April, representatives from Hamas, Hizballah, and the PIJ, as well as representatives from the Fatah Tanzim, Force 17, and the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash organization, met with officials from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in Corfu. Even Hizballah's Imad Mughniyah attended this meeting, Paris' "Al-Watan al-Arabi" reported on 11 May, and the majority of those in attendance had participated in the April Intifada conference that was held in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 April 2001). The Iranian MOIS representative, who chaired the meeting, stressed the importance of coordination and cooperation between Hizballah, Hamas, the PIJ, and Fatah. He also said that successful implementation of this plan required the isolation and removal from power of Arafat, and the Tanzim and Force 17 could accelerate this process by escalating the conflict in the streets.

This meeting represented one side of the Iranian foreign policy process. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi represents the more public face of Iranian foreign policy, and on 23 May, according to Iranian state television, he called for unity on the part of Islamic countries in helping the Palestinian Intifada and confronting Israel. Another aspect of the public face of Iranian assistance to Lebanon was seen in a 25 May call-in program on Qatar's Al-Jazeera television. During this program, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told a caller that Iran has been funding martyrs' and prisoners' families, as well as offering medical aid, through its Al-Shahid and Al-Imdad foundations.

There have been other recent Iranian activities relating to Hizballah and the Palestinian conflict. IRGC personnel have been conducting surveillance from Hizballah outposts near the Israeli border, Tel Aviv's "Yediot Aharanot" reported on 10 June. And Iran encouraged Hizballah to provide Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command with the weapons that the Israeli navy seized from Lebanese smugglers in early May, "Maariv" reported on 10 May.

Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah vowed that the struggle would continue until the Shabaa Farms, the Golan Heights, and Palestine had been liberated, Damascus' official news agency reported on 10 June. PIJ Secretary-General Ramadan Abdallah Shallah said, during a 5 June event at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, that Israel would be eliminated and the Jihad would continue. He warned Israelis to prepare more wreaths for their dead. "because there are more martyrdom seekers among the Palestinian people who are waiting for the right moment to change this entity to an unbearable hell." (Bill Samii)

WHERE DOES AMAL STAND? Lebanon's Amal recently opened an office in Tehran, indicating a warming in the hitherto chilly relationship between the Shia organization and the Iranian government, which had consistently favored Hizballah, the rival Shia organization. Amal leader Nabih Berri, the Lebanese speaker of parliament, said at a 25 May rally in Beirut that "we will continue to hold fast to, and keep strengthening, the diamond triangle represented in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran." Beforehand, according to Beirut's pro-Hizballah Al-Manar television, he said that any threat against Syria would be regarded as a threat against Lebanon, and this would give the resistance the right to attack all Israeli settlements. (Bill Samii)